JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
The Air Force Reserve's 433rd Training Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, marched hundreds of Total Force Air Force trainees into the history books July 16 when those trainees took their Airman's Oath during basic military training graduation and took their place in the long blue line.
The new Airmen are the first to complete basic training in the fully operational, all-Reserve military training squadron.
The 433rd TRS, one of seven squadrons assigned to the 340th Flying Training Group at JBSA-Randolph, is the only all-Reserve military training instructor squadron in the Air Force. In the past, 433rd TRS Reserve MTIs were embedded in Regular Air Force (active duty) squadrons to support the Air Education and Training Command enlisted accession mission.
In May, the squadron, supplemented by former active duty MTIs who were invited to return temporarily to MTI duty, stood up as a line squadron alongside the active duty, inviting its Reserve MTIs to return to the squadron to lead its trainees through 7.5 weeks of training. Volunteers from the 433rd Airlift Wing at JBSA-Lackland rounded out the team, serving in administrative support functions.
Surging the squadron amid a global health crisis that resulted in travel restrictions, physical distancing requirements, and personal protective equipment concerns was a challenge, said squadron superintendent Chief Master Sgt. Tamara Strange.
"This wasn't easy, but we came away with a sense of accomplishment in overcoming anticipated and unanticipated challenges," she said. "The trainees and MTIs gave everything they had and they earned their place in history!"
In addition to smaller flights (enabling trainees to maintain necessary physical distance), most basic training processes are new or modified. When recruits arrive for training, they enter a two-week holding period, during which they are carefully assessed for any signs of illness. During those two weeks, they receive instruction on a variety of knowledge and skills, including drill and ceremony, customs and courtesies and more. They also do regular physical training.
Some aspects of BMT are delayed, though, like a practical application of uniform wear. In the past, flights reported en masse to uniform issue. Now, to preserve physical distancing requirements, Army and Air Force Exchange Service representatives come to the unit to get trainee size information and uniforms are delivered when they're ready. Until the uniforms arrive, trainees wear physical training gear.
The traditional graduation ceremony is the most visibly obvious change. To protect Airmen, their families and staff, graduation ceremonies include individual squadrons only and are closed to the public. Ceremonies no longer include a parade and are live-streamed on Facebook so families and friends can watch.
"Trainees are generally aware that things are different, but this is 'the norm' for them – they haven't experienced anything else – so they've done fine. Our MTIs have also adapted and excelled, in spite of countless challenges they encountered over the past seven-plus weeks," said 433rd TRS Commander Lt. Col. Anthony Erard. "They are consummate professionals and I couldn't be more proud of them!"
Although graduations are now closed to the public, ensuring trainees have a motivational send-off is important, Erard explained, so special guests are invited to speak.
The 433rd's historic graduation also featured an appropriately historic reviewing official: Col. John Thien. The first commander of the 721st Operations Group, which was activated in October 2019, accompanied by his senior enlisted leader Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Laliberte.
Also on hand to celebrate the occasion was the 340th FTG commander who is new to his role as commander, but is far from new to the unit or its mission.
Col. Michael Vanzo, who assumed command of the 340th FTG in March, refreshed his relationship with the squadron, where he once served as the director of operations. In addition, Vanzo formerly commanded another 340th squadron, the 70th Flying Training Squadron at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and served as the group director of operations prior to his assignment with 22nd Air Force in Georgia.
“This is all about what the 340th FTG and the Reserves can do to answer our nation's call. About two months ago Col. Newsom (737th Operations Group commander) and I discussed the plan to stand up the 433rd and start 'pushing' classes independently. With Tony (Erard) and Chief (Strange) leading our exceptionally experienced MTIs and the 737th providing the resource support, I was looking at a guaranteed win. That’s 'Total Force' in action and a perfect example of the flexibility we need to overcome current and future challenges in BMT. Based on the professionalism, pride and morale displayed during this ceremony, the 433rd TRS stand-up is a proven success and will continue to 'Lead' and produce exceptional Airmen,” Vanzo said.
The squadron has no time to rest on its laurels, though. Tuesday, July 21, unit MTIs will welcome the next 560 recruits and will kick off another 7.5 weeks of training, education and mentoring to lead those recruits to their place in the long blue line.